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Rocklands Crop Newsletter

NEW SERIES: BAKGATBOORDE – Rocklands rocking its packouts

In the industry, there are quite a few young orchards that perform exceptionally well despite difficult climatic conditions. To acknowledge the hard work that goes into producing top quality fruit, Hortgro Science is launching the “Bakgatboord Series” . Over the next couple of months, we will regularly feature pome and stone fruit orchards that are worth taking note of. To kick-off our new series we spoke to technical advisor Piet Nieuwoudt about an exceptional orchard on the farm Rocklands, outside Ceres.

By Grethe Bestbier

Named after the rocky mountains surrounding the area, Rocklands farm in the Koue Bokkeveld has experienced a record harvest of Cripp’s Red apples in the 3rd leaf, this past season. With a sky-high production figure of almost 67 tons/ha and a pack-out of 96%, the team has fully earned their orchard bragging rights. According to Piet Nieuwoudt, the technical advisor of this successful orchard, they tried a combination of techniques and this made all the difference.

Bending the twig while young

Starting out with good nursery trees, were crucial. While most of the Cripp’s Red nursery trees that arrive on the farms are about 1.2-1.4 m in length, for this specific orchard the nursery trees were 1.8-2 m. “I think much of the success in the second and third leaf lies with the nursery trees that were planted,” says Nieuwoudt.

A few thick laterals were cut when the trees were planted. During the first and second season, they bent the laterals to such an extent that every two and three-year-old bearing-unit on the tree, produced in the 3rd leaf. They only used the ‘thickness rule’ (removing side branches thicker than one-third of the leader’s thickness, at the place where the side branch connects to the leader) in the first and second leaf to remove branches.

Explaining their choice of rootstock, Nieuwoudt argues that MM109 is better suited for extensive growth in combination with Cripp’s Red in higher density plantings than M7. He says that the high production of fruit, between 180 and 200 apples per tree, did not curb the tree growth. “If we used M7, we would have been worried about whether the leaders grew enough and the bearing volume for the future, in the upper part of the trees.”

Tree Training, Thinning, Fertilizing and Irrigation

The team made the decision not to trunk renew (paal) the trees after the first leaf (end September to middle October 2017). The branches were bent 20 to 25 degrees below the horizontal. Even though bending is an expensive practice, it is an effective and rewarding one, says Nieuwoudt. While they did not chemically thin in the second leaf, they treated the orchard with a tank mix of PoMaxa and Sevin XLR and a follow-up with Sevin XLR in the third leaf. They also thinned the trees by hand, thinning one or two fruit per cluster and ensuring two to three fingers between fruit. Concerning fertilizer, 400 kg of 1:0:1 was applied in four installments from full bloom, every other week.

Situated in the Koue-Bokkeveld, so close to the Karoo, Rocklands does not experience the high humidity levels of, for example, the Grabouw area. In terms of irrigation, they used about 5700 cubes of water for the growing season.

Looking at next season

“What I find positive is that the trees are not tired after the crop. We are getting more than enough growth for next season,” says Nieuwoudt.

For the 2020 season, the team is hoping for production between 95 and 100 tons/ha. Niewoudt is optimistic about this goal, taking the abundance of shoots and laterals as a good sign for next year.  The biggest challenge in preparing for the coming season will be to limit tree growth. If the trees continue to grow, Rocklands might struggle with light distribution in the lower parts of the trees. It is therefore important to get double the amount of fruit next year to reduce growth, keeping new growth below 10-20 cm.

“My opinion is that if we get 50% less growth in the 2019-2020 season, we will have the correct balance,” states Nieuwoudt. “If you look at the trees and tree heights, they have the potential to deliver 95 to 100 tons/ha for the 4th leaf.”

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